Thursday, October 23, 2008

Painting Pottery

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!” – Goethe

One of my all-time favorite quotes. It came to mind recently as my family was planning a day out for my daughter’s birthday.
She was turning 11, a big deal. It’s a wonderful family tradition that whoever in the family is celebrating a birthday gets to pick the day out. For my 40th, it was test-driving a Mini Cooper and Indian food. My kind of fun.

She was struggling to come up with an idea that she thought we would all enjoy. Her top choice, skiing lessons for the four of us, would have been great fun, but became a victim of the post-holidays budgetary blues. She just wasn’t quite sure what to choose. So I, ever the helpful paternal figure, put forward a number of exciting alternatives: bowling, ropes course, swimming at a pool with one of those giant slides. The stuff of champions, a day devoted to getting the blood pumping and the muscles churning. “No, Daddy,” came the reply. The women in my family, aged 7, the last days of 10, and somewhere north of my age, had come up with a plan. We were going to spend the day painting pottery.

Now I pride myself on being the kind of dad who gets involved with anything and everything my daughters love. I attend dance recitals, I drive to horseback riding lessons, I sit for hours and help with piano practice. I’ve even been to one of these paint-your-own-pottery studios before. They frighten me. Shelf upon shelf of empty white vessels awaiting the vision, the splash of color, the deft stroke of the brush. Everything I don’t have.

Even the colors are out to trick you. They look a certain way when you disgorge them onto the palette. They appear completely different when you apply them to your gleaming white nut bowl or postage stamp dispenser. And then, four days later, when you return to pick up your piece after it has cooked in a kiln, the colors are something else again. What you thought was going to turn out crimson and daffodil is in fact now puce and ochre. Not what you had in mind.

But my oldest daughter was only turning eleven once and I am a trooper. This was her day and I could do this. My initial alarm subsided to crafty plotting. Rembrandt I am not. Painting without numbers was out of my league, but I did think of a way I could participate. I’d bring along my trusty laptop and practice my form of art. The girls would paint. And I would reflect, record the momentous day by crafting words, and occasionally help out with useful comments. “Yes, sweetie, those colors match perfectly.” Actually, I knew they would never ask my opinion on hue or tone. They long ago figured out that I have no clue about the difference between mauve and burgundy, but I would celebrate their work and enjoy my own.
Then, at the last minute, as we were preparing to leave, one of those really good parenting moments came to me. It happens once every so often. What kind of dad doesn’t fully participate in his daughter’s birthday fun? What kind of party pooper am I that I couldn’t set aside my ego for a few short hours and take a risk? The computer stayed home and I ventured forth, minivan full of family, to Ceramics in the City.

We arrived. There were squeals of delight. My older daughter picked out a framed mirror. On previous visits with friends, she had already completed the horse head piggy bank, the wacky penguin statuette, and the handy pot with the puppy on the lid. My youngest immediately fell in love with the snowman placard with “Let it Snow” in fancy lettering. My wife, already a pro at this paint-your-own lark, gravitated towards a truly complex mosaic project.

And me? Left wandering, staring at all those blank slates, wondering what on earth I was going to do? What shaped bowl would I pick? Did I actually need a bowl? What color would it be? What design? Could I design? Why is bisque, apparently the name for unfired clay, named after lobster soup? Would I still be pondering these questions when the creative womenfolk in my life were finished and out the door?

With internal tension rising, I did what I know helps – a few deep breaths and a prayer to the Lord God Almighty – helllllppppp! Then I remembered the words of Goethe. I also figured that if this didn’t kill me, it would make me stronger. Who was I to disappoint my only eldest child?

I opened my mind and came across a small oval bowl which I felt I could handle. Well, it’s not really oval but I’m not so hot on my exotic shapes either. I perused the three ring binder labeled ‘Ideas’ and came across some stencils. Perfect – I had been formally trained to stay within the lines. Armed with this new safety net, I poked my nose above the wall of comfort and began. I created – in a medium other than words. Slowly, bit by bit, the scary stuff evaporated and I began to relax. Have fun even.

I selected my colors, I designed a background, and took meticulous care over my final design and finish. I used purples and yellows and greens, smooth textures and rough. I painted a gorgeous butterfly and a happy little caterpillar. I scripted three words which I aspire to be: connected, trusting, passionate. I loved this project. I was in the zone. No one could stop me now. When I next looked up, my wife and daughters had washed their brushes, put on their coats and were heading for the door. Two hours had passed by. “I’m not finished,” I wailed. They were gracious enough to wait, but they were ready for tea.

The bowl now sits on my writing desk, a messenger from a place called risk and a monument to my own boldness and creativity.

My own photo.

No comments: